Legco preview: New Territories East
In the latest of our series on the Legco geographical constituencies, we look at New Territories East, the biggest battleground
Pan-democrats fear they will struggle to hold the five seats they won in the New Territories East in 2008, despite the addition of two extra seats in the most fiercely contested geographical constituency, in next month's Legislative Council election.
A total of 19 slates, consisting of 73 candidates, are vying for nine spots in Legco on September 9. To the surprise of many - including some of their supporters - five pan-democrats on five different slates were victorious last time, despite winning just 56 per cent of the 362,959 votes against 41.8 per cent for the Beijing loyalist camp, which took two seats.
Four of the five pan-democrats are running for re-election this year with Andrew Cheng Kar-foo - who quit the Democratic Party over its support for a controversial electoral reform package in 2010 - the only exception.
A relatively even split in the vote between the slates, which some put down to an "invisible hand" as voters made their choice tactically, allowed Emily Lau Wai-hing, then convenor of The Frontier and now vice-chairwoman of the Democratic Party, to sneak into the seventh and final seat by just 4,500 votes, costing the Liberal Party's honorary chairman James Tien Pei-chun his seat. Both will run again this year.
"There are five strong teams from the pro-establishment camp contesting in the constituency. It would be an uphill battle for us [pan-democrats] to maintain the five-seat majority this year - not to mention gaining one more seat here," said Richard Tsoi Yiu-cheong, who heads one of three slates running under a Democratic Party banner.
The Labour Party's Dr Fernando Cheung Chiu-hung - a former social welfare sector lawmaker who has parachuted to the constituency after missing out in New Territories West in 2008 - said he believed both camps would secure four seats, with an open fight for the fifth.
"Neither side has an obvious advantage over the other," Cheung said.
The NeoDemocrats - a splinter group from the Democratic Party set up after the electoral reforms of 2010 - will run a slate headed by Gary Fan Kwok-wai, while incumbents Wong Sing-chi and Ronny Tong Ka-wah are leading slates again. "Long Hair" Leung Kwok-hung, who won the most votes of any pan-democrat in the constituency last time - will face competition from a newcomer, fellow radical Raymond Chan Chi-chuen of People Power.
Tsoi dismisses the idea that the Democratic Party's decision to field three slates will intensify competition. "The party [including Lau who joined the Democrats in late 2008] won three seats last time. It's possible for us to retain them," he said.
Among the Beijing loyalists, labour sector lawmaker Ip Wai-ming will run for the Federation of Trade Unions, while Scarlett Pong Oi-lan, an independent candidate last time, leads several district councillors on a Civil Force slate. Both are expected to be strong contenders.
The Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, which topped the poll with more than 100,000 votes last time, enough to elect two lawmakers, is running two separate lists this time, with incumbent Gary Chan Hak-kan and Sha Tin district councillor Elizabeth Quat heading them.
Chan admitted that the switch in tactics was not without risks and was concerned that the party could lose as many as 40,000 votes to the FTU and Civil Force slates.
"It's always risky if we split into two teams," Chan said. "But we are ... trying to win the most seats with the least votes."
Based on figures from the last election, the quota for victory is likely to be set at around 40,000, although most of those elected will not reach the quota and seats will be filled by which slate has the next most votes.
Other candidates include Raymond Ho Man-kit, Angel Leung On-kay, Christine Fong Kwok-shan, Chan Kwok-keung, Pong Yat-ming and a ticket led by Economic Synergy's Yau Wing-kwong.